By Chester Elton and Adrian Gostick

The two of us have spent some time recently reflecting on our careers and what’s next. That’s always a little humbling, but incredibly healthy.

“You have to put some effort into reflection,” we were once told by Joe Badaracco, Harvard Business School professor of ethics. He explained that the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, a genuine philosopher-king by any standard, tried to put away all his many cares and burdens and create what he called a ‘space of quiet.’ The idea is to slow down enough to get a feeling for what your intuitions may be telling you.

We argue that with the summer of 2018 half over, it is a perfect time to take stock of your career (and your personal life) so that when the rush of business hits in the fall your work will be in greater harmony with where you really want to go.

So, first question:

Am I pursuing my passions? 

We only get one career, so if you aren’t doing at least a few things you love, then what can you do to sculpt your job? The simple but profound truth is that when our jobs give us the opportunity to do more of the kinds of things that satisfy our key motivations, we are going to be happier and more engaged in our work. Seems logical, right? But there is a prevalent notion that if people are unhappy with their work it will take a Herculean effort to change things, that they might have to quit and find their dream job. For the vast majority of people, that’s nonsense. Most don’t need to take a risky leap; they just need to make small changes in their work lives. The happiest people we’ve interviewed over the years didn’t find their bliss down a new path; they made course corrections on the path they were already on.

As a leader, you can also help those who work for you do this very thing. John Lowery, CEO of the 300 person Michigan firm Applied Imaging, told us this means paying attention to the little things you hear from your people: “We have a technical specialist who loves photography, so we’ve asked him to take pictures at our corporate events. He brings every bit of equipment imaginable and is so engaged. We have a woman on our front desk who is an English major. We asked if she would mind proofing our company brochures before we go to print. She said: ‘I’d love to do that.’ She’s given us great feedback, and does she ever feel valued!”

Second question:

Am I achieving my purpose?

This, of course, assumes you have a clear purpose for your work and have written it down somewhere. One business person we spoke with (who’s also an avid cyclist) told us his mantra at work and in life is “Do good. Be kind. Keep pedaling.” Unassuming right, but very memorable. Those three personal values keep him focused during his hectic project work. With each interaction each day he asks himself: Am I being respectful to those around me? Am I doing the best work I can or am I phoning it in? Am I moving forward or am I dwelling on past hurts or mistakes?

Third question:

What’s next?

Get specific, what will you need to do in the coming months to find more happiness and fulfillment in your work? Do you need to find time to mentor others, spend more quality time with your loved ones, serve with a non-profit outside of work, get more education, learn a new skill on the job? Don’t think about the financial rewards, but about what you can do to bring yourself closer your purpose and help you live your passions.

Very quickly, those are just a handful of our ideas on reflection. We’d love to hear how you’ve challenged yourself to develop and grow.

One Comment

  • Andy Taylor says:

    HI Chester and Adrian – thanks so much for sharing. What I love about this article is the importance of taking some time to just slow things down and reevaluate that you are heading in the right direction. So important these days, especially with how busy we all are and how many directions we get going in at once. I also love the idea of finding small things at work that bring you joy and then finding time to do them and enjoy them. Great stuff!!

Leave a Reply